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Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - Looking for the way to Bhutan

Refugees Magazine, 1 March 1997

The Bhutan Lama followed his people into exile in Nepal but now he just wants to go home.

Interview by Robert Cooper

Why did I leave Bhutan? Many people have asked me that over the past five years.

Some days I ask myself the same question. I'll try to give you an answer but please understand, the important question now is, when can I go home?

I want to go back to Phirphire village. Back to the house where I was born 31 years ago. Back to where I played as a boy and learned from Lamas the Buddhist scriptures. Back to where I first took my Lama's vows at the age of 10. I want to go home to Bhutan.

I can understand why it must seem strange to you that I left Bhutan in the first place. Most people in Phirphire are Tamang, like me. We speak Tamang and are mainly Buddhists, but we lived side-by-side with Hindus and we got on well. There was no trouble. Children went to school. The government provided medical care. There were five senior Lamas in my village in addition to a brother and myself and the temple of Lamisanda was within two or three hours walk. Families worked the land. We were not rich, but we were content. Nobody wanted to leave.

So why did I go? There were disturbances in southern Bhutan, especially Chirang District. Local people protested against a government imposed census which divided villagers and families into seven different categories. None of us really understood this census business. It was never fully explained. I was not personally involved. Most people were not.

But the troubles spread, multiplied by rumour. People became afraid. Noncitizens were ordered to leave the country, to go back to Nepal. Some went happily. Others tried to object. The authorities bought their land. Some officials were good I think many did not understand the census any more than the farmers. But a number of people were killed some officials, some farmers and some soldiers.

In Phirphire there were meetings. We were farmers. We acted like farmers. The people were afraid but did not know what to do. Some people, like my family, decided to stay on their land and wait for better times. Others, including my friends, decided to leave, to keep out of the way until the troubles passed. They asked me to go with them to Nepal. I took my wife and left because a Buddhist community should have a Lama.

I could not support violence in any form or from any side. Buddhism is the Middle Way, the path of tolerance and understanding. If everyone had behaved correctly and tolerantly there would have been no trouble and no refugees.

I thought we would soon be back. I was wrong. My father died and my daughter was born while we continue to wait in a refugee camp in a foreign country. And I wonder when we will be finally able to go back.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (1997)

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A new life for refugees from Bhutan

They fled to Nepal from Bhutan amid ethnic tensions in the early 1990s. Now, many of the slightly more than 100,000 refugees have been offered the possibility of resettlement to another country.